One in four children rejected from mental health treatment

One in four children (24.2 per cent) referred to specialist mental health services were rejected in 2017/18, according to a new report by the Education Policy Institute. What's more, these rates have failed to improve substantially over the last five years.

The report assessed the state of children’s mental health services in England, considering access to specialist services, waiting times for treatment, and provision for those children that are not able to receive treatment.

It found that the number of referrals to specialist children’s mental health services has increased by 26 per cent over the last five years. This is a substantial increase, indicating that services are coming under increasing strain. This is also despite a population increase of only three per cent.

The report authors estimated that 55,800 children were not accepted into treatment in 2017/18. The real figure is likely to be far higher as a number of providers did not disclose referral numbers.

The most common reason for referrals being rejected was that children’s mental health conditions were not serious enough to meet the eligibility criteria for treatment. Among those excluded by threshold criteria were young people who had self-harmed or experienced abuse.

Most providers do not follow up with children who have been unable to access treatment. The outcomes for these children are often unknown – with no consensus as to who is responsible for supporting them.
Many areas of the country lack sufficient alternative services for young people who have not been accepted for treatment. As many as a quarter of local authorities have phased out vital support services, including school-based mental health services, family counselling and support for those living with domestic abuse.

For those children with mental health problems who are accepted into specialist services, many face a lengthy wait before their treatment begins. The average median waiting time for children in 2017/18 was 34 days to receive an initial assessment and 60 days to receive treatment. This has been broadly stable over recent years for assessment times, but has improved a little for the longest times to treatment.

Current waiting times are far longer than the government’s new standard of 4 weeks, set out in its green paper on children’s mental health. Average waiting times are currently twice as long as this proposed standard.


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